A beacon of hope
It is time for the people of FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) to rejoice; they are going to be fully part of Pakistan with all the rights and privileges they deserve. Federal Cabinet has approved the recommendations of the Fata Reforms Committee and these will be sent to parliament soon to be formalised as legislation. The most well received news has been the recommendation of merging FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KP) as in this manner FATA will have the status of a province. FATA reforms have been in the pipeline for the past 40 years and now finally something tangible has come to light. The jubilation, with which the news of reforms has been received in FATA, reinforces that these would be widely welcomed by the majority of the people of FATA.
The main objective of these reforms is much needed improvement in the lives of the people of FATA and for this purpose the government has done the right thing to approve the recommendations of the Fata Reforms Committee that will soon be sent to parliament. According to these reforms the outdated and antiquated Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) will be repealed and replaced with a new Riwaj Regulation for Tribal Areas, which will be submitted to the President for approval under Article 247 of the Constitution. The clause of collective responsibility will be replaced by the principle of personal responsibility in the administration of justice. The jurisdiction of the high court and Supreme Court of Pakistan will be extended to FATA, by amending Article 247 of the Constitution. The jirga system which has an important place in FATA will be retained, and a council of elders appointed by the court will decide the criminal and civil cases under the light of Riwaj. The codification of Riwaj after its scrutiny by the superior courts will be done while the oversight of the higher courts would not allow any term of Riwaj that conflicts with fundamental rights of Pakistan Constitution.
The committee that made all the recommendations visited the seven FATA Agencies and met not only jirgas of tribal elders and maliks but also representatives of political parties, civil society, traders and journalists. In these deliberations it ascertained that FATA could no longer kept in isolation. The merger with KPK is a good move and while this will take some time, it will pay dividends in the long run as it will ensure equal citizen status for all those living in FATA. They will be able to take part in elections and enjoy all other constitutional rights as bona fide residents of Pakistan.
Economic development is another key aspect of the proposed reforms and for the changes to be successful in any aspect it is imperative that FATA be given economic independence. A comprehensive socio-economic development plan for FATA must be financed post haste for unless funds are in place all developments options will only languish indefinitely. FATA development council has also been proposed to oversee the preparation and implementation of the ten-year development plan for FATA. The council will be headed by the Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and will include all senators and MNAs of FATA, Secretary SAFRON, Chief Secretary KPK, Additional Chief Secretary FATA, Chief Executive FDA, Secretary P&D FATA Secretariat, an army representative, and four technocrats nominated by Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhawa as members.
It is high time that FATA is fully integrated into Pakistan and peoples’ fundamental rights are ensured and they are treated as equal citizens. Extraordinary efforts would be required to accelerate development of FATA to bring it at par with the rest of Pakistan and all Pakistanis must stand united to bring this about. The hope is that these reforms will break from colonial era rationale and allow the people of FATA to no more suffer under legal loopholes. They have been kept in the shadows long enough, it is now time for them to step into a new era with confidence and their heads held high. The implementation of these reforms may not be smooth or easy but now that we have started this process it must not be derailed. It is indeed a complex process and will face a lot of hurdles but we must not lose this historic opportunity to mainstream FATA and allow its people to live with dignity and respect.